News that two high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl quickly spread on Sunday, with the troubling case coming to a close — at least for now. And while many reacting, there are a few capturing the most attention — the ones that appeared on CNN.
Students Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond were sentenced to at least one year in juvenile jail (the former could be detained until age 24 and the latter until 21). The state will soon be launching a grand jury to explore the possibility of additional charges. But a report by CNN’s Poppy Harlow, and subsequent discussion featuring anchor Candy Crowley, in the wake of the decision has quickly gone viral, with numerous outlets lambasting the news network for what appeared to be a sympathetic discussion about the teenage offenders.
The Atlantic’s Adam Clark Estes notes some of the curious statements that were made on CNN about Mays and Richmond in the wake of the guilty verdict. Here’s how the outlet describes the news report:
Candy Crowley probably didn’t mean to steal the spotlight on Sunday afternoon, when she reported on the breaking news from the Steubenville courtroom where Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond had just been found guilty. After the verdict came in, the CNN anchor turned to correspondent Poppy Harlow, who expressed some strange mixture of emotions. “Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart,” said Harlow. Crowley turned to legal expert Paul Callan, who sounded almost apologetic when explaining how the rape conviction will mean that the Steubenville rapists will now be registered sex offenders and how that “will haunt them for the rest of their lives.” None of these things said were untrue. But the tone was certainly a little off.
Clark continued, noting that while CNN wasn’t rooting for the young men, those involved in the discussion took on an odd tone and seemed to show some sympathy for the perpetrators. Gawker, too, pointed out the coverage, noting that the television outlet chose to focus on the lives of the teen offenders being destroyed rather than the impact of the victim (her name has not been released).
“One way to report on the outcome of a rape trial is to discuss the legal ramifications of the decision or the effect the proceedings may have on the life of the victim,” Gawker’s Mallory Ortberg wrote. “Another angle reporters can take is to publicly worry about the ‘promising future’ of the convicted rapists, now less promising as a direct result of their choice to rape someone.”
The news report was mainly criticized for doing the latter and for building out the lives of Mays and Richmond, while purportedly focusing too intently on the ramifications the verdict would have on their football and academic careers. Ortberg made it clear that there should be no such discussion among professional journalists when focusing upon rape trials.
The teens, critics argued, were responsible for their actions and, thus, there should be no surprise — or over-dramatized media reports — showing overt or even slight sympathy for them.
Here’s how Ortberg summarized her views on the matter:
It’s perfectly understandable, when reporting on a rape trial, to discuss the length and severity of the sentence; it is less understandable to discuss the end of two convicted rapists’ future athletic and academic careers as if it were somehow divorced from the laws of cause and effect. Their dreams and hopes were not crushed by an impersonal, inexorable legal system; Mays and Richmond raped a girl and have been sentenced accordingly. Had they not raped her, they would not be spending at least one year each in a juvenile detention facility.
It is unlikely that Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow are committed rape apologists; more likely they simply wanted a showy, emotional angle at the close of a messy and sensationalized trial. Since the identity of the victim is protected, and the rapists obliged the camera crews by memorably breaking down and crying in court, they found an angle to match: extremely gifted young men were brought tragically low by… mumblemumblesomething.
That isn’t how rape trials ought to be discussed by professional journalists
Watch the CNN report in question, below:
Adding to the outrage is that the satire outlet “The Onion” — known for mocking the absurd — once found the idea of sympathizing with rapists so ridiculous it even produced a segment about it.
Writer and comedian Krister Johnson posted an old YouTube video from Comedy Central’s “SportsDome,” an Onion show he once worked on. The segment he posted was a mock story about a basketball player who “overcame” committing a rape.
Taking aim at the CNN news report about the Steubenville rape, Johnson wrote the following description for the video — a clip that some commentators have said predicts the aforementioned CNN report:
I was a staff writer on the Onion’s show “SportsDome” which aired on Comedy Central in 2011. This is one of the stories we did–full credit to David Iscoe (twitter.com/realhumanbeing) for the idea and script. It could have been produced by the CNN team covering the Steubenville rape verdict.
Watch the Onion clip from “SportsDome,” below:
Conversation about the contentious CNN report has made its way over to Reddit, where reaction generally ranged from dismay to intense frustration.
“A year in juvenile detention for rape. That’s not justice,” user askarNC wrote about the trial itself. And another who goes by the name Jennerality covered the CNN report, writing, “The worst part was when the guy at the end called the result of the whole ordeal a ‘tragedy.’ Er, so it wasn’t tragic for the girl who actually got raped, but apparently it’s tragic that the boys got what they deserved?”
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